It is a sad state of affairs when the best thing about a Dallas Cowboys season is what the Philadelphia Eagles are doing. But here we are. Dallas improbably holds a one game lead in the NFC East despite their 6-6 record. How they fare in the month of December will determine whether they get to the playoffs or not, unless the Eagles are just so dreadful that it doesn’t matter. What are we to think?
How are they wasting such phenomenal offensive production?
Just look at these numbers:
Here are some positive #Cowboys stats:— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) December 3, 2019
1st in 10+ Yard Plays
1st in 3rd Down Percentage
1st Offensive Yards Per Game
1st in Sacks Allowed
1st in Red Zone Turnovers (offense)
1st in Yards Per Play
1st in Negative Plays
1st in Successful Play Percentage
But wait. There’s more.
NFL passing leaders through Week 12:— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) November 26, 2019
- Dak Prescott, 3433
- Jameis Winston, 3391
- Philip Rivers, 3169
- Jared Goff, 2995
- Tom Brady, 2942
- Russell Wilson, 2937
- Matt Ryan, 2934
- Deshaun Watson, 289
- Aaron Rodgers, 2822
- Pat Mahomes, 2808
That is a ton of both volume and qualitative performance. How can a team putting up those kinds of numbers be stuck at .500? How can they squander a breakout year by Dak Prescott, who is just now hitting adulthood in NFL QB terms? How can they flounder when they have the best wide receiver group in recent memory, if not decades?
Well, we’ll get to that shortly. What is obvious is that this may go down as one of the most wasted offensive seasons in NFL history. All those yards, so much efficiency, and still this team drops games it should win. Time after time. That can only mean there are some spectacular failures going on.
Special teams absolutely and positively suck
Here are some numbers that are a wee bit less favorable than the offensive ones already cited. (Yes, I know I have used this before, but I’ve never seen a nail I couldn’t over-pound.)
#Cowboys ST ranks through Week 13:— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) November 30, 2019
27th in PR average
29th in FG %
32nd in KR average
32nd in Gross Punt average
32nd in Net Punt average
T-32nd in Kicks Blocked (offense)
T-32nd in Return TDs
T-32nd in Blocked Kicks (defense)
There are some obvious conclusions, but don’t just listen to me.
What’s thwarting the #Cowboys - worst starting field position in league because they’re 32nd in KO return and defense creates few turnovers. Offense cannot be expected to consistently drive 75 yards for points. That’s the primary flaw.— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) December 3, 2019
Of course, it is exactly what I have been saying since very early in the season (hello again, nail) when this started to become blatantly obvious to even the most casual observer.
We appear to have found a new mathematical formula for those of you in the analytics corner: Most productive offense in the league plus worst starting field position equals .500 football. While so much focus has been on things like whether Ezekiel Elliott is being used effectively, or if he has lost some burst, the real culprits are staring us in the face.
It is understandable why Jerry Jones has not fired Jason Garrett midseason. The team has never been out of the playoff picture, and there is not one scintilla of evidence he has lost the locker room, which is believed to be what cost Wade Phillips his job. But how in the wide world of sports has the team not done something about special teams? As much as the signposts point to a departure for Garrett after the season, replacing Keith O’Quinn would seem to be something seen in 300 foot high flashing neon letters. He isn’t just not getting the job done. He may have cost Dallas multiple games through his failures.
Bend don’t break defense may be breaking things after all
That lack of takeaways is a huge problem. The Cowboys are the fourth poorest team in the NFL (yes, there are actually three other teams that are even worse), and thanks to generally taking care of the ball, only have a -4 differential for the season. But there is another problem, one that I discussed with Michael Sisemore on our weekly Brews and the Boys Podcast (available on all the cool podcast sites) (shameless self promotion) (really, we have fun, come join us).
This defense is soft. They let other teams move too well between the 20-yard lines, which contributes to that horrid field position. And they allow other teams to get out of a bad situation far too often. The poster for this is probably one play from the Buffalo Bills debacle.
JOSH ALLEN WENT BEAST MODE pic.twitter.com/kfN79nGjJq— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 28, 2019
As others have questioned, just what in silver and blue blazes was Jaylon Smith doing just standing there while Josh Allen pulled his foot out of DeMarcus Lawrence’s grasp? But that is just indicative of how the Cowboys have failed to wrap up ball-carriers all season. Then there are the bad angles, the blown coverages, the inopportune penalties. Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli both have a reputation for coaching hard-hitting, never stop defenses. Yet the Cowboys have too often just not been able to seal the deal, resulting in a new set of downs or points for the opponent.
Taken together, the failures of the the defense and special teams have simply overcome the high level at which the offense has generally functioned.
If they do win the NFCE, it may be a truly hollow victory for the Cowboys
There is an unlikely but still possible scenario where the Cowboys lose out the season - and still go to the playoffs. It entails the Eagles losing every game but the remaining one against Dallas, in which case Dallas wins the tiebreaker, as the Eagles would sink to 2-4 in the division, while the Cowboys would be 4-2. That would make them a playoff team with a 6-10 record, which would be the worst ever. Not to mention simply abysmal.
Even without that bizarre situation coming about, there are much higher chances of the Cowboys making the playoffs with a 9-7, 8-8, or even 7-9 record. The only way they can get to the somewhat respectable record of 10-6 is to win out. How many out there think they have a good chance of doing that? Raise you hands.
There is nothing about the first twelve games of the season that hints at them suddenly finding a way to win all of the remaining games. And then they would enter the playoffs against five teams that all have shown so much more in the regular season. Anything can happen in the playoffs, as the New York Giants have proven more than once. The chances of it happening with the Cowboys are just astonishingly small.
There isn’t enough blue Kool-Aid in the world for me to hope for them to go on that kind of run. That is tragic in a way, because a tight playoff race in December should be exciting and energizing. Instead, the mood about the Cowboys for the rest of the season is veering very close to apathy. I can hope they prove me wrong. But when hope clashes with clear and irrefutable evidence, hope has to step back. That, I think, is sadly where we are.